Tuesday, June 22, 2021

New Adult Nonfiction Featuring Maria Gaetana Agnesi

I want to post one more quick update to make sure the new email subscription service is working properly. So I'd like to share the title of a new book for adults that mentions Maria Gaetana Agnesi: Forces Of Nature: The Women who Changed Science by Anna Reser and Leila McNeill.

A review in the Albuquerque Journal said "The volume has the heft of a textbook, but it’s a readable history."  I look forward to reading it soon. If you get to it first, let me know what you think.
 

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Carmela 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Quick Fun Fact About Maria Gaetana Agnesi

I usually post about the myths associated with Maria Gaetana Agnesi and her family. But today I thought I'd share a fun fact: there's a crater on Venus named in Maria's honor. While I couldn't find a good image of the crater to share, here's one of the planet Venus:

From nasa.gov

You can read more about the crater here.

According to the MacTutor site, two other female mathematicians have Venus craters named for them: Émilie du Châtelet and Sophie Germain. 

Please note: with our new email subscription manager, you can no longer reply directly to post emails.  If you have questions that you don't want to ask via the comments on the blog page, you may contact me through my website.

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Carmela

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Update for Email Subscribers

This is a quick post for email subscribers. Google will be discontinuing Feedburner, which was the software that managed this blog's email list. So I'm migrating my email list to follow.it software. If you follow this blog via email, there are two things for you to be aware of:

  1. The "from" field of future emails will now read "follow.it." 
  2. In the first email you receive from me via follow.it, you'll need to confirm that you want to continue receiving content from the Maria Gaetana Agnesi & Family website. 

That's it! 

If you don't currently subscribe to the Maria Gaetana Agnesi & Family website, www.MGAgnesi.com, and you'd like to, sign up here.

Carmela

 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Myth-busting and Celebrating on Maria Gaetana Agnesi's 303rd Birthday

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Maria Gaetana Agnesi in Milan, Italy, on May 16, 1718. Sadly, many myths continue to be perpetuated about Maria. Just yesterday, I found a site that offers a "library of teaching worksheets" for classroom use called KidsConnect. At first, I was pleased to see they include a set of worksheets about Maria. But when I read the sample information, I found it riddled with errors. For example, it includes what I called Myth #1 in one of my earliest posts on this site: "Her father, Pietro Agnesi, was a math professor at the University of Bologna." I debunk that myth here

Another myth on the KidsConnect page is "Maria’s mother’s death made her retire from public life. She stayed at home and manage [sic] the house, and she was the eldest of 21 children." The page also says: "Aside from completing her own lessons and performances, she was also responsible for teaching her siblings. This task kept her from achieving her own goal of entering a convent, as she had become extremely religious." I explain the error behind statements like these in this blog post

I'm especially troubled that these myths are part of information sheets used to instruct children about Maria Gaetana Agnesi. I don't know about the worksheets themselves, but the sample information on the KidsConnect website does not cite any sources. From what I read there, the "facts" seem to have been copied from the Wikipedia entry for Maria Gaetana Agnesi. While Wikipedia does include source references, those sources are unreliable and contain misinformation. That's how these myths keep getting perpetuated. I have sent a message to KidsConnect regarding these issues. We'll see if they respond.

I still hope to publish a nonfiction biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi for young readers that will provide the true story of her life. Meanwhile, I recommend these two references for the most accurate information we have about Maria:

    A Biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Eighteenth-Century Woman Mathematician by Antonella Cupillari
    The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God by Massimo Mazzotti (You can follow him on Twitter @maxmazzotti)

On a positive note, today I discovered that the Remarkablz site celebrated Maria with a fun Science Superhero Identity and a game card in their Top Quarkz game. You can read all about it here.  

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Women's History Month 2021

I've mentioned here before that my historical novel, Playing by Heart, was inspired by Maria Gaetana and Maria Teresa Agnesi. Women's History Month feels like an appropriate time to again celebrate the lives of these amazing sisters. 

The novel’s original title was The Second Salvini Sister. I based my main character, Emilia Salvini, on composer Maria Teresa Agnesi, and I gave Emilia an older sister, Maria, who was modeled on Maria Gaetana. I incorporated several events from the Agnesi sisters’ lives into the story. For example, the scene in Chapter Five where Maria Salvini gives a speech defending the education of women is based on Maria Gaetana’s first public speech at age nine. Young Maria Gaetana had translated the speech into Latin herself. She had to overcome her natural shyness when she recited the long speech from memory before a gathering of Milan's aristocracy on August 18, 1727.    

Empress Maria Theresa, 1759
Another real-life event I wanted to include in the novel was a 1739 visit to Milan by future Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The Empress is obviously a much more well known figure in women's history.

I was thrilled to find a primary source describing the then-archduchess's only visit to the city. Translating a document written in eighteenth-century Italian proved painstaking. Still, it was worth the effort. The document contained wonderful details that helped add authenticity to Playing by Heart

I learned that Archduchess Maria Theresa participated in the Ritual of the Holy Nail at the Duomo Cathedral in May 1739. The ritual is still performed annually in Milan. You can watch video clips of the ceremony on YouTube. You’ll find a brief overview with English narration here or the full ceremony in Italian here

Here’s an excerpt from the scene in the novel describing the ritual:

“My first glimpse of the archduchess came the next day, which happened to be the Feast of the Cross. Our family joined the crowd inside the Duomo to participate in the twice-yearly ritual of the Holy Nail, a relic believed to be one of the nails from the cross of Christ. The Nail is stored in a crystal case set in the center of an enormous gold cross suspended high inside the cathedral’s dome. The cross can only be reached via the Nivola—a mechanical, cloud-shaped lift said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself. The lift sits behind the Duomo’s main altar. From where we stood, I could see neither the Nivola nor the three cathedral priests who climbed into it.”

I loved incorporating real events involving notable women of history into my novel. I hope Playing by Heart inspires readers to learn more about these amazing women.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Two Postage Stamps Honoring Maria Gaetana Agnesi

In May 2018, I shared about some of the events being held in honor of Maria Gaetana Agnesi's 300th birthday.  But it wasn't until recently that I learned of additional events commemorating the anniversary: two postage stamps were issued to honor Maria, one by the Italian government and the other by the Vatican.

The stamp issued by the Italian government is one of a set of four celebrating “Italian Female Genius." Agnesi's stamp includes a graph of the "witch of Agnesi" curve named for her. She didn't invent the curve, and the name was the result of a mistranslation. See this post to read more about that.


 

According to WitchOfAgnesi.org, a website devoted to information about Agnesi, the Vatican issued an Agnesi stamp to recognize her as an "outstanding mathematician and impassioned Catholic." The Witch of Agnesi website was established by California State University mathematics professor Shirley Gray, a long-time advocate for recognizing Agnesi's contributions to mathematics. The Vatican stamp depicts Maria in prayer, but it also includes the witch of Agnesi curve on a sheet of paper lying on the floor beside her. 

 

I'm thrilled to see Maria Gaetana Agnesi honored in this way--it was long overdue!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Maria Gaetana Agnesi Biography on MacTutor Site

There's a great deal of misinformation about Maria Gaetana Agnesi online. One of the reasons I created this site was to point out some of those errors. Today, though, I'd like to share a website that sticks to the facts: the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive. The site is hosted by the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. I was pleased to discover that the MacTutor biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi is based on information from reputable sources, and it includes a list of those sources.

Here's the portrait of Maria included in the MacTutor bio (which is in the public domain):

I commend Edmund Robertson and John O'Connor, the creators of MacTutor, for a job well done!